Aborigine Tiwi Islanders challenge $3.6-billion gas project in Australia

Sydney, Australia, June 7 (EFE).- Indigenous people from the Tiwi Islands in northern Australia have begun a legal campaign against a gas project, saying they were not consulted about the drilling plan off the coast of Darwin.

Alina Leikin, an attorney for the Environmental Defenders Office representing the indigenous Tiwi people, told EFE that the offshore had posed risks to the environment and the livelihood of the traditional owners of the Northern Territory’s Tiwi Islands.

The islanders alleged that they were not informed about the AU$4.7 billion ($3.6 billion) Barossa project granted to the Australian oil company Santos, said Leikin.

However, Santos said they had sent emails to the community.

Leikin said it was “the first time” that a claim has been launched in Australian courts against a decision by a regulatory body that approved the project without consulting the original owners.

On Mar.22, Santos received the go-ahead from the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (Nopsema) to drill up to eight gas production wells in the Barossa field, 120 km north of Tiwi.

The decision prompted the community to file a legal appeal against the regulator and Santos on June 3 in the Australian Federal Court in Melbourne.

They argue that the project approval did not meet the legal requirement to consult the traditional owners.

Community elders are concerned about the risk that the drilling poses to their livelihood, the environment, and their cultural and faith-based customs.

Leikin said they would argue that offshore drilling and a possible spill or a maritime accident could “completely change the lifestyle” of the Tiwi people, who have inhabited the island for 60,000 years.

“We spend a lot of time out in the water – hunting, fishing. We only ever take what we can eat in a day, no more,” said Munupi lawman Dennis, challenging the project.

“We respect our homelands, our sea country and it looks after us. Santos should have respected us and consulted in the proper way.”

Santos indicated in its environmental plan that they sent emails and called the Council of the Tiwi Islands, which represents the traditional owners, last year, but they did not respond.

Its then project partner ConocoPhillips has also recorded that it consulted the Tiwi Land Council in 2018 and was able to satisfy its concerns about nesting turtles, the Australian public broadcaster ABC said.

The project includes a pipeline from a gas field in the Timor Sea to an existing liquefied natural gas facility in Darwin Harbour. EFE


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